The City of Essen with over 590.000 inhabitants and covering an area of 210 km² is now the greenest city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Moving from a grey industrial city of coal and steel, to the European Green Capital in 2017, Essen is a model for transformation, using innovation and a multi-stakeholder approach.
On its way to becoming a more livable, more environmentally friendly, low-carbon, and resilient city; Essen has been undertaking a large number of sustainability activities. In 2017, 453 projects were implemented, as the start of a Green Decade for Essen. Among these, one of the most innovative initiatives undertaken is running the world’s first methanol powered electric propulsion passenger ferry.
Lake Baldeney’s White Fleet, the city-owned passenger ship company, is the largest in the region and serves about 100,000 people annually. Its new fleet addition, the MS innogy, is Germany’s first passenger boat powered by methanol fuel cells.
The companies innogy SE and SerEnergy collaborated to develop this new approach. The ferry can carry over 100 passengers. It sails on the Rhur, from Lake Baldeney near Essen to other destinations on the river. The City of Essen paid for the ship. innogy SE, as the main sponsor of this initiative, designed the methanol fuel cells and fitted all the seven cells and an electric powertrain along with rechargeable batteries (with the storage capacity of 100 kWh) on the ferry for range extension and electric propulsion. The MS innogy is the first boat in the world to use this innovative methanol drive technology and the energy required for the whole operation comes exclusively from renewable sources.
The fuel cells run on methanol, a liquid alcohol with extremely high energy density, which is produced directly at the lake, not far from innogy SE’s hydroelectric power plant. The system filters carbon dioxide out of the air and uses green electricity – from the neighboring hydroelectric power station – and water to convert it into methanol in a two-by-two-meter-high installation. The fuel cells on board the boat then use the methanol to generate electricity on the vessel to feed the battery-backed electric motor.
The process is CO2-neutral, because the boat’s engine releases exactly as much CO2 as was previously filtered out of the air to produce the methanol. If the methanol drive system fails during a journey, a diesel motor of the latest generation and with state-of-the-art filtration technology will take over.
This approach offers a noiseless and pollution free service. As the only project of its kind in the world, innogy SE presents the entire value chain – from the production of climate-neutral fuel using renewables to its application in fuel cells in the excursion ship. This Essen-based energy company is one of the leading solution providers for electric mobility in Germany and Europe, systematically driving the development of climate-friendly transport systems.
Clean fuels such as green methanol can make a substantial contribution to environmentally-friendly transportation. While passenger cars can already use electric engines, this is not the case in some other areas of logistics such as waterborne heavy transport, trucks and aircraft. In this regard, new and innovative approaches are needed to explore options. The technologies for the methanol drive propulsion system as well as the CO2-to-methanol plant have been already developed and are available for utilization.